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Rules of the road for managing storage at remote offices

Apr 18, 20063 mins
Backup and RecoveryData Center

* When to do backups and other tips for remote offices

Most enterprises have many, many remote offices. Sometimes these offices help companies reach out effectively to customers in a particular area – a local office for insurance estimates or a regional repair depot, for example. Sometimes remote offices exist to service some localized talent pool (often the case after an acquisition).

While there are lots of reasons for remote offices, none of those reasons involves making life easier for IT managers. In fact, about the only good thing that comes from remote offices (as far as IT is concerned) is that these offices typically have no local IT staff on the payroll.

Those of you who support remote offices, or who must provide services to workers who have home offices, understand what a limited benefit this is. The money you don’t spend on remote IT workers is more than offset by the money, effort and heartburn associated with taking care of remote end users. Unfortunately for you, these remote workers typically need the same level of service as do the workers back at the central corporate offices. Equally unfortunate is the fact that when you do provide them with services, you often find yourself flying blind.

I really know of no single solution that addresses all the IT needs of remote offices, but fortunately a growing number of IT vendors are helping you address parts of the problem. Wide area file services (WAFS) – sometimes with, sometimes without WAN optimization technologies included – are now available in a growing number of implementations from companies such as Availl, Riverbed and Tacit Networks.

As for those parts of the problem that are still unaddressed, well, perhaps some useful rules of the road might come handy. It seems to me that when it comers to remote office backups, a minimum set of rules would include guidance regarding each of the following:

* Remote tape drives – Don’t do it. In almost every case, having remote tapes turns out to be a very bad idea. Administering a remote set of backup tapes is next to impossible, maintaining remote machines is at best a challenge, and heaven help the person who has to implement a recovery. A good rule of thumb here: No remote IT worker, no tape drives!

* Don’t support non-essential remote data – Apply some useful rule defining what data will be backed up and what won’t (suggestion: yes to the sales records, no to the sales department’s supply of manga and porno), make sure that rule is reflected in a service-level agreement, and stick to the SLA.

* Single instance, single instance, single instance – Not only will this, like the previous rule, cut down on bandwidth requirements, it also will greatly improve the efficiency of disk usage at the remote office. This may also be a great time to begin considering a “single instancing rule” in all the software you buy where this might provide value – backup and archiving software are obvious examples of where this will deliver value, but surely there are others as well.

This list is just a beginning, something to tide you over until you get new software online.

If you’ve got more rules, or better ones, I’ll share them with the readers.

*** The 2006 edition of The Great Storage Haiku Contest is now officially underway, and the first entry – not likely to be a winner, JN – has already arrived. See last Thursday’s column for the rules. Send entries directly to me. I’ll announce the winners in May.